There has been lots of talk about the end of the classic NPAPI interface which is currently supported by all versions of Firefox to make third-party technologies available in the browser.
The most popular plugins currently supported are Adobe Flash and Java, but there are more plugins that Firefox may pick up to make their functionality available.
Google’s advantage over Mozilla is that Chrome ships with a version of Flash built-in to the browser which means that the most popular NPAPI plugin is still available in Chrome, albeit in a different form.
Since Mozilla does not have an agreement with Adobe to do the same, it is at a significant disadvantage as the removal of NPAPI support would result in Firefox not supporting any Flash content on the Internet anymore.
Chrome on the other hand does not support any other NPAPI plugin which means for instance that you cannot run JAVA or Silverlight content in the browser anymore.
Firefox and DRM
Mozilla has been in a precarious position in regards to DRM functionality in Firefox. It had the option to integrate DRM playback capabilities to Firefox, which would please users who use services like Netflix on the browser but displease users who don’t want DRM capabilities in the browser, or don’t support DRM which would force users who want to use services that require them for streaming to switch to another browser for that but please users who oppose DRM in any form.
Mozilla added Adobe Primetime Content Decryption Module (CDM) in Firefox 38 to support DRM HTML5 streams.
Firefox users may have noticed that Primetime is listed as a plugin in the browser by default, and that there is also a OpenH264 Video Codec provided by Cisco for the same purpose. If you have not, type about:addons in the browser and switch to plugins when the page has loaded.
These plugins are set to “always activate”, and the only other option you have is to set them to “never activate”. The option “ask to activate” is not available.
Firefox users can disable the DRM on about:config as outlined in the linked article above. This removes the plugins from Firefox.
It is very likely that Widevine will get its own “turn off” switch once it is made available. Also, Mozilla maintains a special version of Firefox that is DRM free.
Google Widevine CDM
Mozilla announced a couple of days ago that it plans to bring another content decryption module to Firefox. The organization will push Google’s Widevine CDM to Firefox Nightly soon which will add support for HTML5 video content that requires DRM to Firefox to add support for sites that rely on Widevine for that.
According to Mozilla, it is an alternative for “streaming services that currently rely on Silverlight for playback of DRM-protected video content”.
The plugin will only be made available to Windows and Mac versions of Firefox, and it will only be downloaded to the browser when a user visits a site that requires it.
The integration ensures that Firefox covers both Flash and Silverlight DRM on the Internet after the termination of support for NPAPI support.
The end of NPAPI
Up until now, Mozilla stated that support for NPAPI would end at the end of 2016 but did not reveal exactly when it would happen.
A post on Mozilla.dev.tech.plugins in February revealed updated plans. According to the information posted there, Mozilla plans to remove NPAPI support in Firefox 53 which will be out in April 2017.
The next Firefox ESR (Extended Support Release) version is 52 and will receive security updates for a year. By removing NPAPI in Firefox 53, the release *after* the ESR, users that need NPAPI support can continue to switch to Firefox ESR 52 and keep using NPAPI plugins until May 2018.
The main reason why Firefox 53 is picked is that Firefox 52 is a new ESR release. This means that anyone on ESR will be able to use NPAPI plugins until that version is no longer used and that is not before May 2018.
Check out our release schedule for Firefox for exact dates (added when they become available).
- Firefox 52: new ESR version
- Firefox 53: NPAPI support is dropped in Firefox.
- Firefox 60: new ESR version without NPAPI support
- Firefox 60.2 ESR: The old Firefox 53 ESR version is no longer supported. The end of NPAPI in Firefox.
As is the case with future releases, things may change along the way. We will update the article should this happen. (Thanks Sören)